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Why Do Lamps Have a Maximum Wattage?

Lamps have a maximum wattage for user safety because wattage refers to the amount of electrical power flowing through that appliance. Using bulbs that exceed a lamp’s maximum wattage can lead to overlamping, more commonly known as overheating. This results in intense and potentially dangerous heat being produced

Lamps have a maximum wattage to prevent overheating, which can cause an electrical fire to break out. The maximum wattage also helps protect your lamp from permanent damage, which would otherwise cost you time and money to repair or replace it. 

Whether you struggle to make sense of electrical terminology or just fancy learning more about the subject, check out this video for a more in-depth explanation of Volts, Amps, and Watts.

The rest of this article will explain a few related topics like how to match bulb wattage to light fixtures, what happens when you use a higher than maximum wattage, the different bulb types available, and how to determine what shaped bulb you will need for your lamp.

Why Do Lamps Have a Maximum Wattage?

Matching the Correct Bulb Wattage With Your Lamp

Choosing the correct bulb wattage is a simple matter of comparing the lamp’s wattages, which are typically found on the light-bulb sockets of the lamp. 

Some lamps have more than one or two light bulbs, so be sure to look closely for each bulb socket’s individual wattages. 

However, some lamps with more than one bulb may still display only one maximum wattage. In this instance, assume this is a total wattage for the lamp and ensure that the total wattage of all the bulbs added together doesn’t exceed this maximum rating.

In especially rare cases, what with safety standards now being far higher than they were a couple of decades ago, the lamp in question may not have any maximum wattage displayed on it, so far as you can tell. 

In this instance, Electrical Experts suggest following the rule of thumb, which is to select those bulbs with 60-watts or lower ratings.

If you’re ever in any way concerned about the potential dangers of exceeding the recommended wattage of a lamp, err on the side of caution and choose a bulb with lower wattage to the lamp’s maximum. It’s always perfectly safe to use a lower than recommended wattage bulb.

Now let’s look at some of the potential dangers of exceeding the maximum wattage of lamps.

Why Do Lamps Have a Maximum Wattage?

The Dangers of Exceeding Maximum Wattage

As mentioned above, the greatest potential danger of exceeding the maximum wattage of a lamp is an electrical fire risk, which you can avoid by following these tips.

In less serious circumstances, when overheating or overlamping occurs, the insulation on the wiring in the lamp can melt, which can damage the lamp’s internal wiring and/or damage any wood framing around the lamp.

The chances of the lamp overheating increase significantly if the light bulb is enclosed in any way, such as a lampshade or glass encasement.

For peace of mind, there are notable symptoms to watch out for: 

  • The smell of burning
  • If your lamp itself, not just the bulb, feels hot to the touch, it’s likely overheating. 
  • In that case, turn off the lamp immediately 
  • Let the lamp and its bulbs cool down significantly 
  • Inspect it closer, but be careful not to burn yourself.

If you’re unsure of assessing potential damage to the lamp, consider taking it to an electrician.

On the other hand, if you’d like to learn how to self-assess any potential damage to your lamp, take a look at what electricians will look for during an electrical inspection.

Before you conduct an assessment on your lamp, be prepared that the lamp may need to be rewired or replaced altogether if the damage is irreparable. 

If you want a more academic overview of how the heat from a light bulb is emitted, the temperatures the bulb can reach, and an in-depth investigation into the scientific term of incandescence, consider studying scholarly articles such as this.

What Bulb Types Are There?

The other important factor to consider, aside from a bulb’s wattage concerning the lamp’s maximum wattage, is the type of bulb required for your lamp. 

If you’d like, you can watch Martha Stewart and her guest Mark Candido, co-owner of The Accessory Store in Stamford, Connecticut, explain the 3 main bulb types and their differences.

In essence, you have Incandescent (Tungsten), Halogen, and CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) bulbs. 

Incandescent/Tungsten Bulbs

  • The most common bulb that we’re all familiar with, but also the least efficient
  • They need to be replaced most often
  • Offer the coziest effect and bring out the true colour of a lampshade
  • Amazon’s Choice is the Philips 11w Genie Energy Saving Light Bulb

Halogen Bulbs

  • More efficient than incandescent bulbs, providing 25-30% more light with the same amount of electricity.
  • Better suited to offices, kitchens, and lamps with warm-colored shades because of their whiter light.
  • Caution: they burn at a very high temperature, so place them somewhere out of the way.
  • Amazon recommends the Orsam Decostar Halogen Lamp.

Why Do Lamps Have a Maximum Wattage?

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) Bulbs

  • The most efficient of the 3 bulb types.
  • Last far longer than incandescent bulbs and use far less electricity.
  • Best suited to similar environments as Halogen bulbs given the cold-colored light they emit.
  • Caution: they contain Mercury so be extra careful when disposing of them.
  • Amazon’s Choice is the Philips Tornado Compact Fluorescent Spiral Bulb.

On the other hand, there are additional requirements to consider. Advances in technology no mean there are also LED (Light Emitting Diode) and Smart Bulbs (which you can control remotely) to consider. 

LED lights offer instant bright light, save up to 90% on energy, and last up to five times longer than other bulbs. Meanwhile, smart bulbs allow for remote-control, timer settings, and even change colors all from the same bulb.

So, if you wanted to remote control a lamp or if you have one with a dimmer switch, you’ll want to consider a more detailed orientation of the various light-bulbs available on the market. 

What Bulb Shape Do You Need?

Provided you select a bulb within the correct wattage parameters and have chosen what type of bulb you want depending on your personal preferences and your lamp’s requirements, the final thing to consider is whether or not the bulb fits your lamp correctly.

Overall, there are 3 common bulb caps, the cap is the bottom of the bulb that you insert into the socket of your lamp, to choose from. You need to consider whether you require a Bayonet, Screw of Pins or Pegs bulb for your lamp socket. 

You can see for yourself what these cap types look like here, or you can use this guide to help you select the right bulb type.

Otherwise, there’s no limit as to what bulb shape you can use! You can be as traditional or as quirky as your heart desires.


Lamps have a maximum wattage for one reason above all others, which is safety. 

The maximum wattage protects you from potential injury, and it protects your lamp from potential damage. There are tips and guides you can follow to remain safe and prevent unnecessary expenses.

However, selecting the right bulb for your lamp is about more than just the correct wattage. You need to consider the 3 main bulb types and the 3 most common bulb shapes to determine the bulb that your lamp needs.